By Camm Ashford
Mr. Sam Gooden, an original member of the Impressions and a 1991 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, passed away Thursday in Chattanooga, surrounded by family. He was just a month shy of his 88th birthday.
Known for their gospel-styled harmonies and socially conscious songs, the Impressions remained one of the top R&B and soul groups for more than five decades, with million sellers like “Gypsy Woman,” “It’s Alright,” “People Get Ready” and “Choice of Colors.”
Lead singer Curtis Mayfield left the group in 1970 for a solo career, although he continued to write and help produce for The Impressions. Mr. Gooden and fellow Chattanoogan Fred Cash continued to sing as The Impressions along with other lead singers over the years, including Willie Kitchens. Mr. Gooden retired in 2017, with a final concert at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
The state of Tennessee honored the Impressions with a Tennessee Pathways sign at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on M.L. King Boulevard in downtown Chattanooga on Dec. 3, 2019.
Mr. Gooden was the eighth child born to the late Reverend George and Ruby Gooden on Sept. 2, 1934. He began his formal education in Rossville, Ga. and later graduated from Howard High School in Chattanooga. After graduation, he joined the United States Army where he was a truck driver.
In 1957, after serving his country, Mr. Gooden began his singing career and took his vision to Chicago, where he met Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield. Realizing they needed someone to take them further in their career, they allowed a gentleman by the name of Eddie Thomas to take them under his wings as their manager. Mr. Thomas persuaded the rising stars to change the name of their group from “The Roosters” to “The Impressions.”
The group released the song “For Your Precious Love,” and life for the young singers was never the same.
In 1963, Gloria Driver, a young lady he met in Chicago four years earlier, became Mr. Gooden’s wife. They later relocated to Chattanooga.
In addition to his singing career, Mr. Gooden served as an auxiliary police officer for the city of Chattanooga. He was also a member of River of Life Church in Rossville, Ga.
Mr. Gooden often stated that the 64 years of his career blessed his life with joyful memories, and his faith brought him through many challenges that presented opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.
“I am motivated to ‘Keep On Pushing’ until my heart tells me it is time to sit and rest,” Mr. Gooden said during a recent interview. “I love entertaining. Seeing the happy faces of those we sing to is a bonus. Singing is my way of spreading love, peace and hope to a newer generation, and telling our faithful followers thank you.”
Mr. Gooden is preceded by his parents the Rev. George and Ruby Satterwhite Gooden; brothers, Doc Gooden, George Gooden, LaVelle Gooden and Varnell Gooden; sisters, Mae Ruby Blake, Annie Ruth Ross and Mary M. Scott; and son-in-law, John Wade.
Mr. Gooden is survived by his loving wife, Gloria Driver Gooden; children, Samuel J. Gooden, Sandra D. (Marvin, Sr.) Hudgins, Gina (Darryl, Sr.) Griffin, and Gloria J. “Spanky” Gooden, all of Chattanooga; 11 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives, in-laws and friends.
A private Memorial Service will take place at a later date. Military Honors and Rites will follow at a later date at the Chattanooga National Cemetery, as well.
Arrangements are being handled by Willis Funeral Home, 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Dalton, Ga.